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1/30/2013
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DARPA: Your Tech Will Self-Destruct

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency seeks a new class of electronic devices that can dissolve on command as a way of staying out of enemy hands.

14 Amazing DARPA Technologies On Tap
14 Amazing DARPA Technologies On Tap
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is launching a research initiative to develop sensors and other electronic devices that self-destruct when no longer needed.

DARPA's Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program aims to create "transient" electronics capable of dissolving into the environment around them or otherwise transforming into useless blobs. The U.S. military doesn't want its remote sensors, radios, mobile phones and other high-tech gear to fall into the wrong hands.

Electronics developed under VAPR would have functionality on par with products currently in use, but they could be completely or partially damaged with relative ease. By way of illustration, DARPA shows an image of a processor that appears to be melting. "The breakdown of such devices could be triggered by a signal sent from command or any number of possible environmental conditions, such as temperature," said DARPA program manager Alicia Jackson in a written statement.

[ Read about a more mundane, but necessary, DARPA project: DARPA Takes Aim At Space Junk. ]

DARPA has begun accepting proposals for research into materials, devices and manufacturing processes, and for applicable designs, with a goal of producing "a new class of electronics" that are characterized both by performance and transience.

Potential applications include sensors for buildings and transportation and environmental monitoring. Networks of sensors, for instance, could be used during a military mission, then dissolve into the environment.

This isn't the first time DARPA has delved into transient technologies. Last year, agency researchers unveiled a new class of electronics, intended for implantable medical treatment, that dissolve in liquid. They use ultra-thin sheets of silicon and magnesium wrapped in silk, so they can dissolve harmlessly into the body to prevent infection. "We want to develop a revolutionary new class of electronics for a variety of systems whose transience does not require submersion in water," said Jackson.

The agency will hold a conference on Feb. 14 in Arlington, Va., to discuss requirements for the VAPR program. The event aims to bring together organizations that have expertise, resources and facilities that are relevant to research and development in the area.

InformationWeek is surveying IT executives on global IT strategies. Upon completion of our survey, you will be eligible to enter a drawing to receive an Apple 32-GB iPad mini. Take our 2013 Global CIO Survey now. Survey ends Feb. 8.

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John Foley
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John Foley,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/30/2013 | 7:33:34 PM
re: DARPA: Your Tech Will Self-Destruct
Is it possible that DARPA is developing this technology in response to the ongoing threat of sequestration, in which the annual Department of Defense budget could be cut by more than $50 billion? i.e. as the funding disappears, the technology does too.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Moderator
1/31/2013 | 8:33:01 PM
re: DARPA: Your Tech Will Self-Destruct
Given all the toxic materials that go into the manufacture of regular electronics, I'll be impressed if DARPA can come up with devices that dissolve without leaving behind poisonous pools.
PJS880
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PJS880,
User Rank: Ninja
2/3/2013 | 6:14:57 PM
re: DARPA: Your Tech Will Self-Destruct
This is some real life Mission Impossible type technology. I love it and I am sure that it will serve the intended purpose when needed. These will definitely spurs a new age of electronics and make the possibilities of being able to almost do anything on a mobile device a reality. I look forward to watching this topic in the future bad seeing what results come form the purposals.

Paul Sprague
InformationWeek Contributor
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